MARICOPA — The City Council joined the planning commission in approval of a land use change for Santa Cruz Ranch.
The property is located on the northeast corner of Anderson and Miller roads. It's 995 acres that provides for 160 or more acres of master planned developments with the overall unit density ranging from 3.0-10.0 units per acre.
It was determined earlier by Pinal County that a master planned community is the most compatible land use for the area.
The request for the change comes from Iplan Consulting on behalf of W Holdings. There are five steps in this process: general plan, annexation, rezoning, preplat and final plat.
Just as with the Oct. 11 planning and zoning meeting, the council also addressed the concerns of Maricopa residents regarding water and traffic. This time the conversation was more lively.
Michael Berry, the first public speaker, addressed train traffic concerns.
He said about 200 trains a day use the track across Anderson Road by Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway. It's blocked a significant part of the 24-hour day period for emergency medical equipment, fire and police, not enabling people to get the coverage they want.
He calculated with 200 trains a day it would make it eight trains per hour at three and a half minutes per train and each train being about 2 miles long with four engines on them.
"I just want to make everybody aware of the fact that it should be a major concern for your operations," Berry said. "Developments have to include some way to remedy this situation with the train traffic."
He mentioned an accident at Ak-Chin Regional Airport and how it took 25 minutes for emergency responders to get there, which didn't even include waiting for a train. The alternate route takes them out of their way to reach the airport.
Jackie Shields felt the P&Z commissioners were misinformed during the Oct. 11 meeting.
She said the idea of a municipal property corporation for improvements went through in 2005 already, so the commissioners felt they could protect the public better and do things correctly with the land change.
"They were doing what they thought was best and I totally appreciate that because we do need your help and we do need people to listen," Shields said.
She's lived in her subdivision since 2004 and she was told about a development coming in back then, but the development was "squelched" in 2005. She said she's learned since then the reason why it was "squelched" was because of the floodplain issue.
She said now there's a new plot of land being used from the same farmer, which is "completely different" in a lot of ways such as having a floodplain, bigger roadways, larger land space, smaller home space and more.
Shields prefers having bigger homes on bigger lots, which would make more money and won't have to "squeeze everybody in."
Dave Klingensmith again addressed water concerns as he did in the Oct. 11 P&Z meeting.
He wanted to correct Iplan Consulting on water usage and farming when the company said farming uses more water than housing. He said it was misleading since farming uses lots of Colorado River water and a little bit of groundwater.
He said this MPC wasn't included in the Global Water company-assured 100-year water supply since the property wasn't "thought of at the time," so water can't be pumped from it. The water company would need to create a new service surface area for an assured 100-year water supply from the state, though the Arizona Department of Water Resources doesn't give out certifications for this anymore for new planned communities.
"I understand that no city wants to be first to say that they're in a groundwater shortage but I say you need to take the bull by the horns and use it to your advantage," Klingensmith said. "The future of Maricopa and surrounding communities is on you to zone and build, be water smart, keep properties, especially in that area at two-plus acres each per home and cut groundwater demand by 83.3% over the proposed Santa Cruz Ranch 6,000-plus homes. Groundwater belongs to the people. It needs to be treated as the finite resource that it is."
Jason Sanks, land use planner for Iplan Consulting, said they've taken all the concerns of the public into consideration since neighborhood meetings in August.
He said the train traffic is a new issue not previously discussed and the time to address this concern would happen during the final design plans. They'll work with various groups such as emergency service departments, city planning and engineering, and others to bring recommendations and solutions, so there aren't future problems.
He said those who spoke during the current meeting and 900 acres to the east of them were living in already designated master planned communities just like the Santa Cruz Ranch property. This land change would open up more opportunities to develop the property.
Councilman Henry Wade asked what the primary concerns were during the previous discussions on this property.
Sanks said traffic, density, drainage and water use as a top four.
Wade then asked him if there was a feeling of understanding and camaraderie from the community about this issue.
To this question, the audience voiced a lot of "no's" and laughed while some even raised their hands and put a thumbs down.
"I believe that inherently speaking they do live in a lovely community within Pinal County," Sanks said. "They enjoy their lifestyle and their community, and the master planned community that we're proposing is keeping with the city's goals and visions with land use."
He believed the concerns the citizens had were standard and though they didn't come to a consensus, Sanks believed their questions were "diligently" answered to the "best of their knowledge at this time." He said the developer is going to continue working with them through the multiple project stages.
Wade said his main concern was all parties involved "at least getting heard" and respected.
Councilman Vincent Manfredi called upon Rudy Lopez, city director of development services, to clarify what this meeting was for, for the benefit of the public.
Lopez said the meeting was just for the land change. In 2005, the plan was passed and in 2015 it was readopted by the voters. This idea works within the general plan since every year they address it.
Even though the land change was approved, it would not mean they're "building houses tomorrow." There will be consideration of annexation, zoning, design and everything else that goes with the project at a later date.
"This is the first step to bring us to the point of where we can discuss all the other stuff people are concerned about today," Manfredi said. "To get to that point, to have the discussion, today is important to pass this part."
Lopez said it was a "critical path to the step of discussion." In a perfect setting, it would take about six months to a year and a half for houses to start being built. In reality, it'll take more like years.
If the applicant wanted to, they currently could proceed under Pinal County authority and do everything without Maricopa since the county previously had granted master plan approval. That might cause the design standards and plans to be different than Maricopa's.
Shields raised her hand in the audience and Mayor Christian Price called her up to the lectern. This is when she and Price had about a five- to six-minute back and forth conversation about her concerns about the project.
City Manager Rick Horst reined the conversation in to sticking with the items on the agenda, which was the land use change, saying the city could not discuss things that haven't really been presented for public review yet.
Horst also addressed Klingensmith's other water concerns about where they were getting it from. He said it's too hard to speculate on something they haven't created a plan for yet since they don't know what the applicant is proposing to build.
"I just want to be careful that we have publicized a purpose tonight and if we stray too far from the purpose, others may say 'I didn't know that was on the agenda,' so I think all these are legitimate concerns and questions and they can be addressed offline or when we get to that stage, so we can't speculate," Horst said.
Price said he understood there's still a lot to be said and it is frustrating with the stages the project has to go through. He said the council wants to "dive in and help to satisfy the citizenry," but they're legally constrained. He said these issues are still important and officials will continue to have conversations with members of the public about them.